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Let The Music Play

Once a week, our friend John comes to The Ivey to sing songs to our members and dance with them. It is always one of the week’s true highlights for our members, not to mention our staff, too! John’s repertoire is wonderfully eclectic. From Broadway show tunes and jazz standards, to Golden Oldies, Motown and R&B – it’s like melodic time travel, with the notes of his sweet voice wafting through The Ivey whenever he’s here. Did I mention that he dances while he sings and actually starred on Broadway?

But even more enjoyable to me is watching the members during these now-weekly “Music with John” events. They are singing and dancing, moving and grooving like teenagers again. Even members who at other times tend to be more quiet and introverted really light up! Feet and fingers tap to the beat.

I’ve wondered: why? Because music has power and is the true connector…for all of us! I love music of most any kind. My parents loved music. Both sang in the church choir. Both played the piano and sometimes they played duets which made us all squeal with delight. During the last couple of years of my mom’s life, my Dad would play hymns and familiar tunes on the piano for her. She would smile and hum and then sing along.

Mom loved The Sound of Music and especially Julie Andrews’ melodic voice. We saw it in the theater together seven times during my childhood! I loved it, too…and I still do! Even today, I want to watch it every time it is on TV and every time we play it at The Ivey. Once when she was having a bad day, I played the DVD and she immediately sat up straighter in her chair, focused on the music, and said of Captain Von Trapp, “He falls in love with her when she sits on that silly pine cone at her first dinner.” I was astounded at her memory of that part of the movie!

Fast-forward eight years, and my Dad has found his voice again. It began last year in early May. As he is in a nice nursing home in my hometown of Wilmington, I have engaged a Care Manager to take care of his mind: visit with him three times per week, participate with him in the activities on campus, eat lunch with him, and Skype with me each visit. In anticipation of Memorial Day last year, she started singing patriotic songs, encouraging him to sing — and nearly a year later, they have a brand new song to sing for me each time we Skype. I am completely amazed at how he remembers every word and carries the tune so well with his baritone voice. The memories he has are making new wonderful memories for me now.

I’ve followed with great interest the research and discoveries around the benefits of music with Alzheimer’s patients. On the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s website, I found this explanation: “When used appropriately, music can shift mood, manage stress-induced agitation, stimulate positive interactions, facilitate cognitive function, and coordinate motor movements. This happens because rhythmic and other well-rehearsed responses require little to no cognitive or mental processing. They are influenced by the motor center of the brain that responds directly to auditory rhythmic cues….”

It’s no wonder that music is the very thing that can penetrate the mysteries and depth of the human mind in a way that no other drug, treatment or therapy has yet to do. We should (and will) continue to harness its glorious power as a way to enrich the lives of those living with memory loss, communicate with them, comfort them, heal them, and show the world that they are still with us, alive inside and out.

(On a related note, mark your calendar to join us on Tuesday, March 31st at 2pm or 6pm for The Ivey’s next installment of our free Educational Series. This one is called Music Therapy and Memory: Reaching Past and Present Through Song, and will be an interactive presentation about the benefits of music therapy for enhancing short-term and long-term memory and improving quality of life. Come and learn how you can bring music into your loved one’s life…or just reconnect for yourself.)

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